Into the West, 1860–1880
The Missouri River led explorers, trappers, and migrants into the American West. From the 1820s on, the river was the starting point for tens of thousands of people looking for new lives along the California, Mormon, Oregon, and Santa Fe trails.
Many travelers on the Missouri encountered the Hidatsa and Mandan peoples, who lived in villages along the river. They grew corn, beans, and tobacco and used the river for trade and travel. In the late 1840s, the town of Mua-iduskupe-hises, a Mandan term that means “like a fishhook,” had more residents than any nearby white settlement.
Buffalo Bird Woman gathering wood by boat
Gathering wood for fuel was important work for Mandan and Hidatsa women. The hours spent paddling bullboats along the shorelines made them expert boat handlers. When steamboats arrived on the Missouri, the women began selling wood to the vessels. Buffalo Bird Woman noted that “Near Like-a-Fishhook village, wood was rather scarce because we sold so much of it to steam-boats.”
Native peoples along the upper Missouri made small boats like this to travel along the shoreline, carrying wood and other supplies. Formed by stretching animal hides over a supple wood frame, bullboats were typically made by women. French, British, and American fur traders also used bullboats to bring their furs down the Missouri.
Lent by the National Museum of Natural History